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In June, I was on the humor writing panel at the Hunter Writers’ Conference with three other writers who are also hysterical and a moderator who thinks he is, too. Actually the moderator is sort of funny on occasion. He reads my blog. I don’t want his head to swell any more.

So what constitutes “funny”? The following is my opinion. I’d love your opinions in my comment space.

Admittedly, humor is subjective, except when it comes to Mark Twain. The funniest. The wittiest. Don’t you agree?

The Number One Thing that makes people laugh is The Truth. The Truth with a curlicue at the end. It’s a special way of viewing life and all that is ridiculous about it. Distance is required. A perspective.

According to Charlie Chaplin, life is tragedy from the close shot and comedy from the long shot. Seeing it funny requires standing back. It’s the way Neil Simon and Woody Allen view what living with another person is like in The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park, and Annie Hall. The truth: it is really hard. Look at what Felix and Oscar go through. Look at Corey’s and Paul’s fights. Look at Alvy Singer and Annie Hall. Buddies or lovers, there is bound to be friction. Or to paraphrase Sartre, other people are hell. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.

Good humor comes from a struggle. We relate to those who flounder. With families, at work and in love. Woody Allen gets big laughs. He doesn’t get the girl (at least not in his early movies). What is funny about Robert Redford and Brad Pitt? They get ‘em every time. People relate to floundering, not breezing through life with ease.

A second thing that is funny is the unexpected. The more surprising, the better. Jenny Lawson and David Sedaris prove that. Both are willing to make fools of themselves and really let it rip.

Humor is about brevity. Pare it down and pare it down and pare it down some more. Jack Benny was a riot. All he did was give a look. He had a point of view. He hardly said a word. Less is definitely more.


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